Talk:Trade union

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With the rise of the "me me me" and "I'm alright Jack" cultures as a result of Thatcherism in the UK, union membership and power has greatly diminished to the point where most young workers (in whatever profession) are happy not to belong to a union and prefer to bend over to the powers that be and then beg them, teary eyed, to at least spit on it first before sticking it in. Despite the good work that unions have done for the workforce in the past, many of the iPod generation see them as an anachronism and worse yet, as a hinderance to THEIR CAREER. This plays right into the hands of employers who are happy to mete out useless titles and irrelevant wage increases to these people ( a technique known as stroking).

It's almost as bad in the United States, where widespread corruption (including but not limited to massive organized crime infiltration) in the largest unions such as the Teamsters has reduced unions to something of a necessary evil, making it very easy for anti-labor propagandists to convince workers that they don't need a union; in fact, in some industries such as the recording industry, the very organization set up to protect the financial interests of their talent (SoundExchange) is controlled by the industry itself rather than the musicians.

But let's face it, we live in an age of globalism, iBooks, blogs and cool. Who would need a union now we're all masters of our own destiny?'

Shouldn't this be an essay?--Bob_M (talk) 04:01, 31 July 2007 (CDT)

  • I don't know. It's analysis, anyway, and the issue of organized crime involvement in the US labor is well-documented -- you can't talk at length about the Mafia without the Teamsters coming up a couple of hundred times. The fact is that unions do have a somewhat negative image in 21st century America, and it's a real problem as corporate interests continue to squeeze costs and roll back labor relations to the 1880s. Don't forget, in a lot of white collar jobs, salaried workers don't get paid overtime, and yet are expected to work it anyway. Unions were created to eliminate exactly that sort of exploitation. EVDebs 11:50, 3 August 2007 (CDT)
The original text of the article/screed that I threw up probably requires a lot of improvement as it was pretty much me venting whilst drinking after a typical workday! I work in an industry with a reasonable trade union but deal on a daily basis with people who would have benefited from actually joining but for a range of reasons, chose not to. I tend to deal with them when they are informed that they are "surplus to requirement", not an enviable position. HexspecimenIt's an X 13:00, 3 August 2007 (CDT)


Of the four objectives given three are actually means to an objective. I'll sort this out after a vote among the members. and some tea. Totnesmartin 11:27, 3 August 2007 (CDT)

The problem with treating trade unions as price fixing schemes...[edit]

..Is that trade unions are essentially vendors for their members' services. Unless you really think that employers are somehow a special class entitled to dictate terms to their employees without question (and since we aren't a feudal culture (and most Westernized countries, not just the US, have a concept of equal protection of citizens), it seems kind of hard to assert that they're not doing anything that any other sorganization has the right to do.

Fdof: there were bigger problems than dictionary definitions here. Asserting that unions are anticompetitive is, at best, an oversimplification. They also function as political advocacy groups, based on the idea that employee-employer relations are inherently weighted in favor of the employer. The human rights abuses that come from that arrangement tend to serve to make the situation worse, so unions seek laws to eliminate those. Human capital, vendor analogy aside, is a very different product from anything else employer need, because people have lives outside work. It isn't just about money.

I'm not going to roll back your second edit, as it removed the more problematic parts of the first one, but some discussion may be called for. EVDebs (talk) 03:22, 25 August 2012 (UTC)

If I had been able to think of a more neutral term, I would have used it. Pretty much all the terms that deal with this concept are derogatory, even though when a group is exploited, this sort of activity can be justified. I tried to include in my edit the idea that there are good reasons for justifying it; I'm not trying to say that this makes unions illegitimate, only that there are legitimate concerns. And I don't think that calling it a "oversimplification" for not including other properties of unions, when those are separate issues, and are discussed elsewhere in the article, makes much sense.Fdof (talk) 23:43, 25 August 2012 (UTC)
Well, don't forget to make clear the difference between what a union is and what some unions have done. There's some more work to be done here, definitely. EVDebs (talk) 07:33, 26 August 2012 (UTC)

Can we get some more people involved in this convo here? EVDebs (talk) 07:32, 26 August 2012 (UTC)

Imagine I operate a labour hire business — I negotiate with employers to provide them with employees to provide certain functions under agreed conditions (pay, hours, and otherwise). Surely no libertarian could object to that. Since such a business could have thousands of workers available to hire out, it could potentially have an advantage in negotiation that the individuals it offers alone would not. Now suppose, I start such a labour hire business, but on a cooperative basis - i.e. the labour hire business is owned by the employees it hires out. Could a libertarian object to that? I don't see how they could either. And yet, such an organisation, would not be too different from contemporary labour unions. If a large enough number of employees insist on working through such a firm, then employers might have no practical choice but to engage them through such a firm - and I can't see any libertarian objection to that either - it would simply be employees voting with their feet in a free market. Even if these labour hire firms were to negotiate clauses, that said that their customers could not employ individuals independently (or via a competing firm) except on just as good conditions — that would just be freedom of contract, right? So, while libertarians object to labour unions as currently constituted, maybe we could reimagine them in such a way that they would pass libertarians' objections? Zack Martin HolyMaratreanSigil.png 08:18, 26 August 2012 (UTC)
Any group can be coercive. Unions are no different -- see especially the record of discrimination in the AFL, for example. OTOH, much anti-union rhetoric is propaganda in service of the economic elite who would prefer employees to shut up and continue licking the boots of their Galtian overlords. Nebuchadnezzar (talk) 08:57, 26 August 2012 (UTC)
That's what I meant by distinguishing between what unions are and what some unions do. It's not that discrimination and corruption aren't a problem, but they have nothing to do with whether unions per se are a good thing; they're part of a broader cultural issue, and when it comes to unions (and corporations for that matter) it's an implementation issue. EVDebs (talk) 18:39, 26 August 2012 (UTC)

Actual Criticism[edit]

The UAW in 2007 agreed to lower the starting wage to $15/hr, while keeping existing wages at twice that. Or in other words; young people are forced to take a pay cut while the older people get double the pay for the same work, on top of the benefits that are being phased out for the younger generation. The UAW has decided to collectively screw over the next generation in order to keep their own compensation high. Well, not really that high, more like respectable; the average autoworker isn't buying a luxury yacht anytime soon. But still, the UAW has decided to fuck over Millenials. CorruptUser (talk) 02:39, 23 September 2016 (UTC)

I'm not sure what your point is? Is it that unions can be self-interested?--Owlman (talk) (mail) 02:42, 23 September 2016 (UTC)
That they are willing to screw over the next generation to keep their own benefits. Worker solidarity my ass. CorruptUser (talk) 03:27, 23 September 2016 (UTC)
Right. Well the AFL supports the Keystone Pipeline, police unions have more power than most unions, and Cesar Chavez helped deport immigrants and called them "wetbacks". As I have said before, how is this "legit" criticism beyond "unions can be just as self-interested".--Owlman (talk) (mail) 04:28, 23 September 2016 (UTC)
@Owlman Why wouldn't excessive self-interest be a "legit" criticism? Can you please put some effort into your counter-argument? Tyrone8934 (talk) 22:44, 2 January 2019 (UTC)
Also, Libcom has a good article criticizing union shops and membership security.--Owlman (talk) (mail) 04:33, 23 September 2016 (UTC)
At the moment the 'criticism' section is mostly made up of the easily debunked paleolibertarian bullshit. Could use a bit of love.CorruptUser (talk) 06:49, 23 September 2016 (UTC)
The criticism section is a bit of a mess, mingling legitimate criticism with ridicule of the right-wing attack on unions. Perhaps it needs a separate section on right-wing anti-union campaigning with its phony terminology like "right to work".
Legitimate criticism of unions could include:
  • Unions protecting the interests of their members but harming those of the wider population. e.g. as mentioned above, supporting wage rises for long-established workers but preventing new jobs. In the UK they had a long history of campaigning against women's rights, immigration, etc, and in Northern Ireland the Protestant unions fiercely opposed Catholic civil rights especially the 1974 strike.
  • Focus on political campaigning rather than members' interests: kind of the flipside of the above, but some unions certainly do this. The National Union of Students in the UK is famed for its political campaigns. Local government and public sector unions throughout the world often take action when they disagree with state policy, funding, etc.
  • Incompetence, corruption, links to organised crime, inefficiency, overpaid officials, dysfunctional democracy...
  • Division and internecine squabbling. In some industries there are a lot of different unions, who may spend more time attacking each other than working for members.
  • Closed shop, an infringement of freedom of association, forcing people to pay union dues to a specific union. Annquin (talk) 09:00, 23 September 2016 (UTC)
Very late to this, but since I’m on the talk page now anyway...
  • Unions protecting the interests of their members but harming those of the wider population.
This assumes that it’s in the interest of “the wider population” (a nebulously unclear and fuzzy concept) to create a substantial labour reserve, which tends to empower employers at the expense of the employees. And yes, I agree that there has often been more than a smidgeon of bigotry/racism/anti-feminism in these campaigns, but setting aside the clear economic and bargaining power perspectives and framing it solely as a case of “identity politics” is hardly any better.
  • Focus on political campaigning rather than members' interests.
Sure, unions may do this, but who gets to define when whatever issue is or is not in their “members’ interest”? Also, when/why is that a particularly salient criticism of unions, as opposed to pretty much any interest group?
  • Incompetence, corruption, links to organised crime, inefficiency, overpaid officials, dysfunctional democracy...
Sure, for those unions where these characteristics actually apply... But again, are these phenomena especially widespread among unions? The links to organised crime is virtually a trope in the US, but stems from a time when organised crime was very widespread and infiltrated all kind of organisations. It is not inherent to unions and those countries with high unionisation rates (e.g. Scandinavia) have little or no such history. As for the other characteristics, they could be equally well applied to any dysfunctional organisation.
  • Division and internecine squabbling.
Again, is this particularly bad among unions as opposed to other interest groups?
  • Closed shop, an infringement of freedom of association, forcing people to pay union dues to a specific union.
I actually agree with this one, but it’s also more of a historical argument, since closed shops have also been ruled illegal in Europe by the European Court of Human Rights on January 11th, 2006, based on this ruling due to a complaint from a Danish employee.
So, while these criticisms are all valid to some extent, they should be presented in terms that make it clear whether thy pertain especially to unions, to dysfunctional interest groups in general or to mainly historically and/or geographically specific situations (e.g. the organised crime and closed shop topics). ScepticWombat (talk) 10:49, 25 February 2018 (UTC)

Modified BoN’s edits[edit]

Hiya, I decided to modify, rather than revert the BoN’s edit, because sourcing the trickle down BS to the Ludwig von Mises Institute, Forbes and the other usual suspects in the “think” tank landscape seemed the right thing to do. However, I also reinstated the snark, because A) removing it based on criticism made by “Mises’ian” parties is like removing criticism of tankies based on the spluttering of the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist) etc. And B) a revision like the opponents of unions using “nomenclature” not only “over sanitatise” the text (by avoiding/ignoring the clear framing involved) but also makes little sense grammatically. ScepticWombat (talk) 10:20, 25 February 2018 (UTC)

do you have any proof that the sourcing was "trickle down BS"? -- (talk) 10:32, 25 February 2018 (UTC)
Other than the well documented economic trends that have shown stagnant or outright declining real income for low and increasingly for middle income US families since the introduction of supply side economics? ScepticWombat (talk) 10:52, 25 February 2018 (UTC)
@ScepticWombat Yes. If it is well documented, you should not have difficulty finding me multiple high quality citations. And per some of the citations I used (that you would have perused), the GDP under Reagan increased by however many percent. Should that be included in this article. If supply side economics has the negative effect on the middle and lower classes as you claim it does, it would be worth showing that it does have positives as well. -- (talk) 03:16, 26 February 2018 (UTC)
First off, I moved your ping up into your post to get the right indent flow.
Now for your questions. GDP growth says nothing about distribution, so pointing to it is at most tangential to the topic of real wages in particular and real income in general.
As for sources, you could start by going to The Other Wiki and check out the US sections in real wagesWikipedia and middle-class squeezeWikipedia as well as the article on income inequality in the United States.Wikipedia
If you prefer primary sources, you can check the Federal Reserve Bank of Saint Louis report The puzzle of real median household income from December 1st, 2016 or the detailed charts (divided into quintiles and percentiles for detail) from the Russell Sage Foundation,Wikipedia which are based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
If you want to go all in on the topic, I suggest getting your hands on a copy of Thomas Piketty’sWikipedia hefty Capital in the Twenty-First Century,Wikipedia which look at the very long term trends of income inequality. ScepticWombat (talk) 06:39, 26 February 2018 (UTC)
@ScepticWombat Very interesting, I appreciate your taking the time to get the sources, I'll have much to think about regarding them. As somewhat of an aside, I'll be fascinated to see how things go with President Trump's December 2017 tax legislation. As far as I understand it holds to the principles of supply side economics. We'll see how that goes. -- (talk) 09:37, 26 February 2018 (UTC)
Thanks for your kind words and for both prompt and thoughtful response.
If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on the “Trump tax reform” (we can always quibble over whether it’s his or Congress’ or somewhere in between) increasing the deficit (not necessarily a problem in and of itself, depending on the macroeconomic circumstances) and inequality (from what I know of it, the significant cuts for what Marxists used to call the “rentier class”, i.e. speculators and others whose income comes from capital gains, rent etc., seem to be locked in whereas the cuts for ordinary wage earners will expire). As I see it, and I freely admit to a left wing bias that would probably be considered extreme by US standards, the issue is that most ordinary wage earners will probably end up having to suffer the losses by reduced public services in terms of quantity as well as quality. This will likely mean that they will end up having to purchase privately supplied alternatives that tend to produce a host of issues from gaming the system, high transaction costs, some times dubious in terms of real competition, and which might lack the economies of scale that (at least ideally) may be found in comprehensive, public schemes (US healthcare is but the most notorious example in terms of very little “bang for the buck” when compared to healthcare systems in other Western economies).
To take just one example, the increasingly for-profit educational system backed by ever accelerating tuition fees financed by skyrocketing levels of indebtedness is a de facto regressive tax on those who can’t save enough for educating their children or simply pay as they go. This is exacerbated by the resistance to tough regulations of the educational sector, allowing for a host of more or less shady businesses and practices (cough, Trump University, cough), that seem to simply be waved aside as the free market at work and caveat emptor. But I’m rambling now, and beginning to stray off topic. ScepticWombat (talk) 11:24, 26 February 2018 (UTC)

US Labor History section[edit]

Should I include a labor history section for the US? I am asking because American labor history is much more bloody than other industrialized countries and much more political. I mean, I don't think there's a British or French version of the Haymarket massacre or the Thibodaux massacre. Of course the latter example is also a race riot and is tied to the deeper politicization of racism in America. While there was strike-breaking in other countries, American labor seemed to have recieved more hostility than usual. Tuxer (talk) 23:55, 9 March 2020 (UTC)

Unions reducing prejudice[edit]

There is research for the point about unions reducing racism. A similar more anecdotal phenomenon (maybe there's research on it I'm unaware of): reduction in homophobia when straight workers organize alongside gay workers. Not sure about including that one, since it's just personal testimonies. I think we can extrapolate this from the racism research, as well as with a number other prejudices anyhow. Chillpilled (talk) 00:14, 1 January 2024 (UTC)